On December 6, 1989, a senseless act of targeted violence—a tragic mass shooting that took the lives of 14 women. The violence occurred simply because they were women who were studying in a stereotypical male dominated field of study. On this day, we remember Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.
December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, which includes the 16 Days of Activism leading up to December 6. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) disproportionately affects women and girls more than ever and is increasing as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused further economic insecurities and related stress, social isolation, and women in lockdown with their abusers while cut off from social support services.
Groups that face multiple barriers such as Indigenous people, persons of colour, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ2SI may already be economically disadvantaged and dependent on their abusers. COVID-19 is making it more challenging for women and children to leave and access critical supports due to the constant surveillance of perpetrators of abuse. Women need more support to be economically resilient, empowering them to be more independent of their partner. We can achieve this by making funds more accessible from government programs, providing more options for skill-building, pay equity in the workplace and providing immediate access to more economic protection.
As social distancing expands to contain the spread of the virus, women with abusive partners are more at risk and more vulnerable due to being isolated from social services and natural supports through family and friends. Confined living conditions, social isolation and lack of services have led to an increase in domestic violence. Shelters are reaching their capacity as space is limited, making it more difficult for women to access immediate help. It is critical for more space in shelters, more essential affordable housing, accessible supports such as online counselling and hotlines, childcare and safe reporting as many live in fear of being overheard by their partners. We also need to acknowledge the increasing demands of caregiving and responsibilities in the household with social distancing as this adds to more strain to already families at risk.
While grassroots organizations, such as The White Ribbon and Moose Hide campaign, have taught awareness, there is still much more to do to achieve gender equality. International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention-190 clearly states that violence and harassment at work should be addressed, and employers need to include violence and harassment policies when managing health and safety in the workplace to help eradicate GBV from our workplaces. We as union members need to support Bill C-190 because Femicide is real, and it is our responsibility to work toward greater equality, where everyone has a voice. Gender-Based Violence continues to be prominent in our society. We all have a role to play in teaching respect and healthy masculinity to boys and girls, which includes dismantling gender-based stereotypes and taking meaningful action to ensure that tragedies like the December 6 femicide at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal never happen again.
Equity achieves Equality.